State of the County: 'This too shall pass'
Chairman warns of economic woes in '08

DULUTH - Despite a tough economic climate, drought and other challenges, Gwinnett's commission chairman is optimistic for the future.

Chairman Charles Bannister did not paint the typical rosy picture of the county for his annual State of the County address Thursday, but he called on political and business leaders to work together to overcome the expected hurdles of 2008.

"Right now we are being tag-teamed by economic and natural forces that are largely beyond our immediate control, but this too shall pass," Bannister said to a crowd of 650. "And I, for one, can think of nowhere I would rather be than in Gwinnett County."

While the economic slowdown has led to decreases in building permits and in revenues from sales taxes, Bannister said the government is feeling the pressure for more services, including a need for more public safety officers.

"One thing we know is that downturns in the economy produce upturns in crime, and the new budget reflects that reality," he said, adding that the financial needs of public safety and courts means less is available for public works and community services.

While the drought is drastically impacting Lake Lanier, Gwinnett's largest water supplier, Bannister said residents have excelled at conservation and the government is making improvements to both its water and wastewater systems.

The county also moved forward on projects to clear congestion in 2007, spending $145 million on transportation projects to improve more than 100 miles of roads and highways. The chairman said the county will soon begin considering using public-private partnerships to add new roads at a faster pace.

A year after the county government engaged with the Chamber of Commerce and other leaders for Partnership Gwinnett, an economic development effort, Bannister called for continued cooperation to get through the challenges of the next year.

"Overall, I think it was encouraging," attorney Michael Sullivan said of the speech. "There are always going to be ups and downs, but it is encouraging to live in a county where the government will help us weather the storm."

But leaders, including Bannister, pointed to one early indication that 2008 could be a brighter year for Gwinnett: last week's announcement of a deal with the Atlanta Braves to bring its minor league AAA team to a stadium to be built north of Lawrenceville.

"That speaks a lot about what we still bring to the table," David Seago of Georgia Power said of the Gwinnett Braves, a highlight of the speech.

Seago said he believed the next year would be a challenge, but he was also encouraged by Bannister's tone.

"It's going to be a tough year, but I think we're ready to deal with this together," Seago said. "A lot of our Gwinnett County businesses are struggling, but I think at the end of the day, we'll emerge as strong as ever."